When God goes Fishing

I’ve been pretty silent for a while, not writing much due to moving into our new home. There are lots of things to keep us busy, from painting, tiling and moving around the furniture just to amuse ourselves.  From time to time, Mary Ann asks me to move the sofa just so she knows I can still do it. She’s a good wife.

However, late August has brought about a new rhythm of its own. I have succumbed to the desire to change my scenery and have returned to working with my partner Matt at our home renovation biz. Matt says good help is hard to find and he said it out loud within earshot, so I am guessing he is hinting to me to get busy and hang that drywall! Fare thee well favorite big box store!

Today however, I had just arrived at the Williamson County Dump and Recycle Center to throw out a bunch of old drywall and carpet we had pulled up from a customers home. These places are convenient Not only can you throw away old paint, tires and worn out batteries, but they have several compactors that will crush trash, metal and even a trailer for old mattresses. I’m telling you this is “Trash-o-Rama!” Williamson County residents can take one full truck load a day…A DAY mind you and it is all paid for in your handy dandy 9.75% sliding tax scale. Tennessee has no State tax and, believe me, it’s like passing a peach pit  at the cash register when you’re paying 9.75% on EVERY SINGLE PURCHASE. However…I digress.

Today while dumping lots of garbage into the compactor, a younger couple in their mid to late twenties stood on the opposite side of the compactor and were throwing their trash into the dumpster as well. They were young…and in love…Ahhh Youth! And they were quite proud of the fact that he had just bought her a diamond the size of Rhode Island as an engagement ring. She was all of 80 pounds soaking wet and without a doubt she was bigger than he was. She was flashing that piece of ice for all of us trash people to see. In all honesty, she should have been walking with an armed guard. It was beautiful and…well…

She was thrusting out her left hand for the people on my side of the trash compactor to see when two things happened exactly at the same time. The compactor was full, Buford, the compactor operator was too busy looking at her ring when he pushed the yellow button that started the compactor moving forward. The thing was full to the brim with all kinds of goodies… 2×4’s, banana peels, some rotten eggs, some used baby diapers, (Cruisers…on sale 150 pack for 12.99) oil filters, two or three rolls of fiberglass, an old floor lamp, a box of broken fluorescent bulbs and bags and bags of trash. The second thing that happened was that her ring went flying off into the trash compactor!

It slipped in between some oil filters and believe it or not I heard it hit the bottom of the steel compactor floor.  The thing was mauling and had already begun to break some boxes and bags open…one of them exploded with a “splash” as it went everywhere. The young woman looked horrified and screamed. Buford pushed the emergency stop but things were mashed in so tight after some fretting and crying …and that was Buford doing the fretting and crying, there was NO WAY to reverse the compactor. Everything ground to a halt and six of us stood staring at the compactor. The woman’s fiancé was really mad…which; considering that a diamond the size of a softball had just gone into a trash compactor, I guess made sense. Two people drove off and me, Buford the woman and her red faced fiancé stood there looking.  

What to do…what to do?

I asked Buford if the compactor had a pull out tray underneath to which he answered no. I, of course had no idea of what to do. So, I did the only thing one does in these situations…I asked the Lord what to do. The woman was hysterical at this point. She knew her ring was down in that compactor that compressed garbage up to 10,000 lbs. In view of her options, she could allow the compressor to go through it’s crushing and hop into the dumpster to see if it survived the onslaught or…well, that was it…it was the only option.

I asked her if I could pray and she said, “Anything, do anything!!! I want my ring! So I did. “Lord, I ask you to protect that ring and not let it get crushed.” She ordered Buford to start the compactor which, now had a line of cars waiting to dump things into it. Buford pushed the button. The sound of crunching, creaking, splitting wood and squishy garbage being compacted was sickening to hear. I kept hoping that thing was insured.

After the piston returned to it’s starting spot, I asked Buford to turn off the compactor for a moment. Yes…into the dumpster I dove; feet first however…let’s not get crazy. Buford handed me his flash light and I scoured the bottom of that dumpster. I got a sick feeling that didn’t come from the used diaper material on the side of the dumpster. I thought, “Oh no Lord, her ring…” and then…

Out of the corner of my eye, there, right up against a bunch of garbage and eggshells, gleamed her diamond ring…perfectly intact!

I reached down, asked Buford if he had a rag and to my surprise he handed me an alcohol wipe. I gave it a quick once over. THERE WAS NOT A SINGLE SCRATCH ON THE GOLD NOR WAS THE BAND EVEN BENT!

I handed the ring over to the woman and she shrieked with joy! They asked me if I wanted money as a reward. I told her, as I climbed out of the dumpster the only thing that came to my mind…and believe me, I wasn’t trying to be spiritual.

I said, “Store up for yourself riches in heaven where thief cannot steal nor moth destroy…you can do that for me!” They helped me out of the dumpster and she confided that she had been a lapsed Catholic for twelve years. “but “ she said, “I have to go and confess my sins.” Being a former Catholic myself, I told her, “God is available right now…you don’t have to go to the confessional.” She teared up and told me God could never forgive her. Her fiancé stood stone cold silent as she told me she had aborted a baby and could never be forgiven for that. That’s when Buford became my “mighty man of God” . Buford pulled out a Bible from a stack of three on his shelf he had pulled out of the trash from various people. He underlined the Scriptures for her and was very bold.

“Darlin’ this man has jumped into a dumpster for you but dat don’t mean nuthin’ compared to whut Jesus dun fer ya. He ain’t hangin’ on no crucifix…Jesus is Alive pumpkin….ALIVE I tell you!”  Without asking, Buford put up the “This lane closed” sign and told her Jesus “dun come to the trash bin today to find you!”. My eyes teared up. So did hers and her fiancé’s. Ole Buford prayed for her and her man. I told her God forgives everything and right there…in the compactor aisle number #2 at the Williamson County Recycling Center, The woman and her fiancé prayed the sinner’s prayer. Buford, BOLD man of faith, who knew why he was there,  he put his hand in the devil’s face and pushed him out of the way. In all honesty, no preacher in thirty years has had that kind of anointing on him. He was the preacher, I just got to be there.

After giving them a tract from  his church, we prayed again and they went their way.  Buford winked at me and said, “Hey my man, we dun did team ministry and I don’t even know yore name!” I gave Buford a big hug and said, “Not important Buford, but thank you for your boldness and authority!” Buford smiled and said, “The minute you spoke Scripture to dat couple, I knowed dat God decided to go fishin’ in the dump today…you were the hook and the bait…and I got to reel them in!”

There is nothing God won’t do to reach people. Be ready to jump into a dumpster. You never know what is going to happen. Thank God. Being the hook and bait never felt so good!

Alone in the Plaza…

When I was a young man, my wife and I traveled to Brazil and were missionaries with a campus ministry for 5 years. We raised support and we went in faith, believing that God would meet all our needs. This was in July of 1980.

For two years we worked with another wonderful couple and others from the States to build a church and raise up leaders. It was a wonderful time but it required a LOT of faith to believe that God would take care of our every need. In the first place, I spoke Spanish, but in Brazil they speak Portuguese.

We took lessons but, we learned to speak the language by wading into the deep water of day to day activities and learning as we went about business. God always showed up, and even though my Brazilian friends would encouragement me that my Portuguese was improving, I was never quite sure that what I intended to say from the pulpit was exactly what was said!!! I laugh about it today that it was truly a miracle people came to Jesus through my Portuguese.

In 1982 We decided to outreach the city of Sao Paulo. Sao Paulo is the largest city in South America and today, boasts a population of over 12.18 million people. Realizing I couldn’t afford a plane ticket to fly, I took a bus which was called a “Leito” which meant it had attendants like an airplane and was a “sleeper” bus. It was very nice and I settled into my seat for the roughly 9 hour trip.

In those days we had friends with a group called “Youth With A Mission” (YWAM) and I was told that when I arrived in Sao Paulo, a young man named; to the best of my recollection, Aristarchus…(this was over 30+ years ago, but it was a really “different” biblical name like that.), would meet me in the plaza next to the bus station.

I had never been in that city, I had never met this Aristarchus, I wasn’t traveling with much money, I had no phone number for this man and somehow, I was supposed to recognize him, and he would recognize me, and then I would go to his home to sleep for the night. Seemed reasonable to me at 25 years of age.

When I arrived at the plaza, I got off the bus and saw the plaza across the street. I don’t know what I had expected, but we arrived super early in the morning at 2:30 a,m. and as I looked across the street from the bus station I thought I would see a person or two, but instead it was PACKED with people! I thought if I waited by the bus terminal, the plaza would clear out, but instead, it got busier!!

I prayed and asked the Lord to watch over me and to keep me from harm. Brazil, at least in those days, was infamous for getting robbed, or stabbed and robbed or held at gunpoint while you were robbed. Thieves would get on buses and wait until the bus was on a lone stretch of road, then they would take out their guns and walk the aisle of the bus point a gun at you and demand cash, rings, jewelry of all kinds and they would simply shoot you if you resisted. In one instance, they even shot a baby for crying…really bad dudes.

Remembering all of this as I walked into that crowded plaza, I nonetheless had a real peace inside. I looked just like the corn-fed white boy I was…and everyone in that plaza knew I must be crazy to be walking with two suitcases into a plaza and sitting on the steps of the fountain, apparently waiting for Aristarchus to find me. But, herein is a lesson I learned. God; sometimes, will not allow us to recognize the danger of our situation until we are past it. I’m not saying He always does that…I’m not sure God “always” does anything, and of course there was the youthful virtue of being “clueless’ but I have to say I did not fear anything at that moment. He cannot however cure STUPID…but He does deliver us sometimes from it.

In the minute or two that I was sitting there at that fountain, I was approached by a man who stood staring at me. I stood up and was taller than he was. He had an even shorter man standing next to him. I asked him in my Indiana Portuguese accent, “Hello, Are you Aristarchus?” He said nothing and nodded up and down to the affirmative. Now…you would think I would ask for identification and a secret handshake, but of course, being me…I just believed him!

Aren’t you glad that God intervenes in our lives? Like I said, I never recognized the danger I was in at the moment, but I was blithely walking like a goober obediently behind some guy who hadn’t said a word. (You wonder how on earth I have survived this long don’t you?) As I pulled my luggage behind a me, we were almost to the edge of the plaza and were getting ready to walk down a long alleyway, when suddenly, I heard a voice call out, “Douglas!” I turned around and a really tall, sharp chinned Brazilian walked quickly up to me and asked, “Are you Douglas?” I said “Yes, I am, who are you?”

He smiled and said, “Douglas, allow me to introduce you to my friend, Aristarchus!” I looked at the tall guy, then behind him I saw a young guy, about my age, standing next to him. I said to the tall guy, “I thought this was… I turned to introduce him to my chaperones but they had taken off running down the alley.

Aristarchus smiled at me and said “Ladrões”…the Portugues word for “Thieves”. I stood there blinking and after hearing Aristarchus say a few things, like the name of my ministry partner in Rio and some mutual aquaintances, I realized he was the REAL Aristarchus. I was reprimanded gently by my new host as he said, “Never leave a public area with someone Douglas unless you are absolutely sure you know them!” I nodded and stopped in my tracks and just bowed my head and thanked God.

Aristarchus continued, “If it hadn’t been for your friend, I would not have known where you were!” I asked him what he meant, and he said, “I didn’t catch his name, but said, “You know, your friend who brought me to you!” I told him I didn’t have a friend with me. He said, “Then who is…” he looked behind him where the tall Brazilian had been standing while we spoke. I looked for him too, but we couldn’t find him. I told Aristarchus I thought the tall dude was HIS friend and he said, “No Douglas, I arrived here alone, and I’m sorry I was late!” “He came and said to hurry and he would introduce me to you!”

We looked at each other for a few moments…trying to take in what had just happened. Aristarchus looked at me and said, “Douglas, how did he know where you were? And how did he know to come get me and bring me to you?” In that instant the realization of what had just happened hit us at the same time and we hugged each other and began praising God. I had just been delivered from real harm by a good looking sharp chinned Angel of the Lord…I truly believe that.

Do you think God is not aware of what is going on in your life? Do you think he doesn’t know your situation, the danger you may be in or the struggle you are facing. Do you not think God, the Lord of the Universe doesn’t know the plans He has for you? Let me tell you this my friend, God cares about your destiny, He cares about your future plans and He wants to work beside you to see it come to pass.

He hears your prayers…He HEARS you. He is always watching you and watching out for you. He wis watching over His word to perform it. It reminds me of a line from Amy Grant’s song from the 80’s “Angels”

“God only knows the times my life was threatened just today.
A wreckless car ran out of gas before it ran my way.
Near misses all around me, accidents unknown,
though I never see with Human eyes the hands that lead me home.
But I know they’re all around me, all day and through the night.
When the enemy is closing in I know sometimes they fight,
to keep my feet from falling, I’ll never turn away…
if you’re wondering what’s protecting me, then you’re gonna hear me say:
“He’s got his Angels watching over me, every step I take,
Angels watching over me!”

He hasn’t stopped my friends…and they are there for you! God will make good His promises over your life. The prophecies He has spoken though His prophets will come to pass…though they tarry wait for them…be patient…God will fulfill His words over your life.

“I will stand at my guard post and station myself on the ramparts. I will watch to see what He will say to me and how I will answer my reproof. Then the LORD answered me: “Write down this vision and clearly inscribe it on tablets, so that he who reads it may run. For the vision AWAITS FOR THE APPOINTED TIME; it testifies of the end, and will not lie. Though it lingers, wait for it, SINCE IT WILL SURELY COME AND NOT DELAY.…” Habakkuk 2:2

Something Good is Going to Happen…

This last Friday I had off from work due to some things my partner Matt had to do. I decided to visit a friend of mine in a town not far from Brentwood, so as I gathered my things and headed toward my front door, I noticed my cell phone battery was VERY low. For some reason, I couldn’t find my charger and; since it was so early in the morning, had to settle for going to a convenience store to get a generic USB cable to charge my phone.

The Charger that I bought was really bad. My phone would only charge up to about 3% and I could turn it on and go to my Google Maps and it would take me about 10 miles before I would have to recharge it. I left it plugged in but again, it would only charge up to 3% and would take me only so far before I would have to turn it off and wait a while for it to charge. This was a comical predicament. I didn’t know exactly where my friend lived and was relying on my phone and Google to get me to the address he had given me.

As I got within a short distance from where I was supposed to turn off, my phone was once again ready to be used. I turned it on, dialed in my friends address and up came the route on my screen. As I quickly scanned the route, I noticed where I had to exit the highway and which way to turn after the exit. I also saw the three streets I would have to drive to get to his front door, but just as I saw the location of my friends home, off went my phone. Sometimes…I wish I had a good old Rand McNally Map in my car.

I pulled off the highway at the exit and made the left turn I remembered on my GPS. Driving into a convenience store, I was determined to get a better phone charger, and this one had a really good one. I looked for the right cable and walked to the counter. While I was there I asked the two employees behind the counter if they could direct me to the streets that I had seen on my cell phone. The manager, a young woman of about 25 or so, said she would be happy to pull the address up on her phone and help me to my destination. This is when the point of my story happened.

As I stood there a woman behind me made a loud “SIGH”. You know, the kind of sigh that says, “Will you PLEASE hurry up!?” She mumbled, “Get a cell phone…or a LIFE dude!” I looked behind me and there stood a woman apparently on her way to work and she had stopped in for a cup of coffee and then off to work. “I’m sorry”, I said, stepping out of the line so she could make her purchase. She grunted and with a needless sarcasm she barked back, “Yeah, so am I!” She paid for her things and I got my directions. I thanked the manager and headed out the door right behind the woman I had inconvenienced (at the convenience store)!

As I approached my car, I heard a woman scream…..curse, and with a dull “thud”

She hit the concrete right next to her car. She had stepped off the curb, misjudged it, and all of her weight fell on her knees! Her coffee went flying. Both her cell phone and her cigarettes came out of her purse and were covered with coffee. She lay there moaning and crying, saying, “My knee, I think I’ve broken my knee!” I came running over from my car and saw her lying face down on the parking lot.

Kneeling beside her, I began asking her if she felt she could get up. I asked which knee got the brunt of the fall, I asked her if it was alright to touch her and to help her up. By this time the two convenience store employees came out and stood there watching. The woman allowed me to help her to sit on the curb. She continued to hold her right knee. I picked up the coffee soaked phone and dried it on my shirt and pants. I handed her, the cigarettes and phone and she just continued to cry. The employees were looking at me, the woman was crying, other people were gathering around. In a situation like this I did the only thing I knew to do… I prayed.

Placing my hand on her knee, I prayed, “Lord, I ask in Jesus name for you to heal this knee, and to console my new friend.” That was it. No great theological statements, causing the earth to shake…just a little quiet prayer in the parking lot of a convenience store somewhere in Lebanon, Ohio. Then, it got really quiet.

The two employees asked if she wanted some ice for her leg. The woman had stopped crying. She looked up for the first time and said, ‘No, I’m going to be fine.” I asked her, “Would you like to try to stand up?” She shook her head yes and I took her hand as she stood upright. She looked at me and said, “I’m going to be fine…you’re the man in front of me in line…” kind of like she hadn’t noticed until that moment. I said, “Yes”, and smiled at her. “ Tears came into her eyes. “I treated you so badly in there…her voice trailing off through sobs. “I’m so sorry”…

I asked her how her leg felt and she said it didn’t hurt anymore. On my insides I was jumping up and down with delight…but I knew it wasn’t due to me. I suddenly remembered when, as a young man, someone had figuratively given me a hand off the ground…and I knew the feeling of shame and humiliation. I got tears in my eyes too. I said, “It’s okay…don’t mention it.” She said, “But, you prayed for me…and…” I know it sounds funny…but the song came into my mind as I helped her to get into her car. It was an old time song…

“Something good is going to happen to you

Happen to you, this very day,

Something good is going to happen to you,

Jesus, of Nazareth is passing your way.”

It reminded me of a sermon I had heard once, a long time ago. The pastor had begun his message by saying, “It was a day, like any other day…when Jesus showed up.”  I remembered when He had showed up for me and I realized His desire for me to get away with Him so we could spend some time together as the woman drove off. He gently whispered to me, “Do you remember when I helped you up off the curb?” I put my face in my hands and just sat there in my car… I DID remember, and my knees were all skinned up too. But like a gentle shepherd, Jesus put salve on my knee, bandaged me up, and stood me back up on my feet.

Didn’t He help you? Wasn’t it painful before he showed up? Have you forgotten? I was a loud mouthed sarcastic fool, but Jesus showed up for me. And when others need help, He will ask us to step up and do as He did. Help the fallen to walk. That’s what the church is for…helping the fallen to walk toward the light. Thank God for low cell phone batteries!

Extra Biblical Things that Seem to Really, Really work…but don’t!

” This introduced incredible possibilities to me! I could wear a Scapular, kiss Lisa Huber, Kathy Lowery AND Marilyn Richmond (my secret crush in third grade) on the lips…steal a Snickers bar from Rexall Drug store, run into traffic and; if I were killed instantly by a dry cleaning truck, be sitting on Jesus lap within seconds! I wouldn’t even have to go to confession anymore! “

Doug Pacheco

If you are someone like me who grew up shrouded in the mystery of religious tradition and intertwined in the confusion between what is Biblical and what isn’t…then this blog is for you.

I grew up Catholic…and I wasn’t a very good one either. Now, back in those days of the early 1960’s, there were some pretty devout…

1. having or showing deep religious feeling or commitment.
“she was a devout Catholic” synonyms:
pious · religious · devoted · dedicated · reverent · God-fearing · believing · spiritual · prayerful · holy · godly · saintly · faithful · dutiful · righteous · churchgoing · orthodox

families in our parish…good ol’ St. Bartholomew’s. We weren’t one of those families… devout I mean. I was pretty sure we would all fry like taco shells, but we had the gift of the gab and Dad would talk with God if it came down to it and would get us into Heaven…he was a lumber salesman you know!

Bartholomew…one of Jesus Apostles, wasn’t the most popular of the apostles. He got laughed at by the other apostles because he had a nerdy name…AND that thing with throwing sand at Peter…missing and hitting Jesus square in the back by the Sea of Galilee didn’t win him any points either. BUT… he got churches named after him and he DID get the assignment to go to India and then Armenia with the Gospel…but all the PLUM assignments went to Peter, James and John cause they reclined at the cool kids table always breaking bread with Jesus and were three of Jesus BFF’s. Anyway, I digress. A good Catholic education is invaluable!

St. Bartholomew’s was a bad Catholic kids paradise. We had girls… really good looking ones! AND, on top of that there was no nonsense about political correctness…we just outright pulled the girls hair and they kicked our shins…normal, flirting for a 3rd grader and no lawsuits! I also learned to cuss and smoke at St. Bartholomew’s. You get more for your money at parochial schools!

When I began school at St. Bartholomew’s in 1964…(my parents held me back a year because I was born in December and would not have been old enough to start in 1963 so I began first grade at 7 years old), all of the Masses were in Latin. This is called a “High Mass”. I once wondered if you had to “BE” high to enjoy it; a question I would later learn the answer to. Anyone who remembers Mister Mister of 1980’s fame will remember the song “Kyrie” and if not then you’ll have to look it up, cause I never liked Mister, Mister. Again, I digress.

We would sing the “Kyrie” in our Mass three times a week when we went to Mass. The priest would say, “Dominus Vobuscum” (The Lord be with you) and we would answer, “Et cum spirit tu tuo” (and with your spirit). That is about all I remember because Lisa Huber and Kathy Lowery distracted me…real babes in third grade!

When a kid hears a religious service in a dead language, everything is open to interpretation, you know? My buddies Terry Harper and Kevin Sanneman learned most of our ninja skills by evading the detection of the Darth Vader of the Vatican SISTER ELVIRA during Mass. Writing notes about girls to each other and passing gum to each other, which; should one chew it in Mass, WOULD SEND YOU DIRECTLY TO HELL! It’s true…John Anderson was in first grade with me and the next year he wasn’t at St. Bartholomew. I vaguely remember passing him a piece of gum on the last day of first grade in Mass. Sorry John…but it was Juicy Fruit and was probably worth the instant damnation you incurred. RIP! I’ll be thinking of you down there in Purgatory.

Which brings up the whole issue of extra biblical afterlife issues which we didn’t know were not in the Bible…but Sister Elvira and the other storm troopers at the school assured us that PURGATORY was no Sunday school picnic! (We didn’t know what Sunday school WAS…but it seemed terrible to us since Sunday meant eating a big roast around the family table and in MY family…we got to drink Coca Cola on Sunday’s! Kid’s in Sunday School probably had to eat communion wafers which made your tongue stick to the roof of your mouth!) Poor Schmucks!

Purgatory was a horrible place. You see, since we didn’t read the Bible for ourselves, the Priest of the Parish would explain the rules about getting into heaven, which practically NO ONE got into…at least not right away. This is because as Catholics, we didn’t just believe in Salvation by faith…we also believed you needed good deeds to help you in as well. I did lots of good stuff, like raked leaves, and became a Boy Scout, shined my shoes…you know, REAL salvation stuff like that! So, when you died you would go into purgatory for final polishing and to get any dents out of your fenders. Babies who died in infancy would go to Limbo…a place located in an African nation where they learned to lean backwards and dance under a constantly lowered bar…eventually as they grew up, the bar was lowered into purgatory…I think.

If you have read Larry Tomczak ‘s book, “Clap Your Hands!”, he tells of playing baseball, and while waiting for fly balls would repeat over and over and over in the outfield…”Jesus, Joseph and Mary…Pray for me”. Every time he said it, he got one day knocked off his sentence in purgatory. Larry says he figured by the time he got to purgatory, he’d have about an hour or so left, and then Mary would punch his ticket and send him to Heaven.

So, upon death, if you had been a reasonably good Catholic, you would get a voucher (that’s what it looked like in my mind)…kind of like a note the nuns would pin to our shirts so our parents would read it. This voucher would ultimately be read by Jesus or probably by Mary, His mother, since mothers always read the notes on a kid’s shirt. She would tell Jesus that ultimately after an undetermined eternity or so, AND after people had prayed for you and held masses for you…that you would be coming to Heaven. She would also tell Jesus not to hold his breath, cause this Pacheco kid was a baaad egg!

Purgatory wasn’t hot, hot. It was kind of like an over heated steam bath filled with fat guys wrapped in big towels and we would all be chained to the wall, sweating…with a Baby Ruth or a Snickers placed just out of reach to torment us. Some of the guys next to you would smell like garlic…torture! All in all, if I had to spend a couple hundred or thousand years somewhere besides heaven, I’m guessing Purgatory wouldn’t be all THAT bad…but it was no Sunday school picnic…poor Schmucks!

Now you won’t find this in the Bible, but I’m telling you that all we Catholic boys and girls had been told a super secret…. secret. I am now breaking my silence after 61 years to make this secret available to all non Catholics!

There was this thing called a “Scapular” (which I thought was a shoulder blade, but later learned that it wasn’t). A Scapular was, for lack of a better explanation for those of you who do not speak Latin, a Holy card, which was sort of like a baseball card with Mary or a saint’s picture on it blessed by the Bishop.

A Bishop; in Catholic lingo and in lower mafia organizational substructure, was the boss of a priest. The Bishops boss was an Arch bishop, (he wore good shoes) and an Arch bishop’s boss was a Cardinal who; unbeknownst to us was not a bird but a guy in a red hat who spoke with Pope Paul who weekly lunched with the Godhead and got the updated rules…and passed them down the line! Capiche?

The Scapular was worn around your neck on a silk ribbon, like a necklace. If you were wearing a Scapular when you croaked…you walked right into Heaven, bypassing Purgatory and to heck with doing good works! I figured right then and there, that a Scapular was more important than Carl Malden’s American Express Card…I didn’t leave home without it! Later on; after Vatican 2, the Scapular was replaced by a pin you could wear. Sort of like replacing a floppy disk for a thumb drive or something. God keeps up with techy stuff!

I asked my first grade teacher, Sister Gertrude Marie…(because Catholic nuns take on ugly names, they don’t have to wear a Scapular…the fact that they went through life with a name like that gets them right into heaven…I mean, fair’s fair!) if I could get two Scapulars JUST TO MAKE SURE! She assured me I could get in with only one but I would have to wait until my first communion and then my confirmation…until then, to walk carefully and don’t break any rules.

This introduced incredible possibilities to me! I could wear a Scapular, kiss Lisa Huber, Kathy Lowery AND Marilyn Richmond (my secret crush in third grade) on the lips…steal a Snickers bar from Rexall Drug store, run into traffic and; if I were killed instantly by a dry cleaning truck, be sitting on Jesus lap within seconds! I wouldn’t even have to go to confession anymore! An eternity eating Baby Ruth’s, Snickers, drinking coke and chewing Juicy Fruit. I was sure Jesus had a free vending machine by His throne. Who’s to say He doesn’t? Not you! You’ll probably be sitting in Sunday School eating communion wafers til they come out your noses! Poor Schmucks!

Keep Your Eyes Open in 2019

” I glanced at the woman who was waiting and was going to make a silly comment when I saw that her eyes were red and her face was flushed, like she had been crying. “

Doug Pacheco

I was once on my way to a meeting, in fact, I think I was going to church. It was a pretty early on a Sunday morning and I was stopping at a supermarket to get some kind of supply we needed  and we were running behind schedule so I hurried in to find what I needed and then dash out to get to where we were going.

When I entered the store it was early, maybe 7 am.

As I walked into the store, it seemed empty, aside from the woman in the check-out lane, (this was before you could do “self-check- out”, there didn’t seem to be any one but this one customer checking out.) I always try to notice the “lay of the land” when I walk into a place and on this morning there was just bad elevator music and maybe a handful of people doing their shopping. I think I was irritated that I was late and I was trying to hurry.

I noticed the employee at the cash register was trying to scan a greeting card as I walked by her but I heard her complaining as I was within earshot, “I don’t know why this card won’t scan!”  I just shrugged it off and went to get the things I’d come for because I figured it didn’t concern me so I forgot about it. Allow me to say for the record, that it is my personal belief and my personality to think that EVERYTHING concerns me.

It’s not that I think I am all that and a bag of chips; RATHER, I have learned throughout my life, that if I saw it, heard it or in anyway experienced something with my five senses, that I experienced it for a reason. Sometimes that’s been good, many times it has not been so good.

I took a few minutes to make sure I had made the best buy, compared prices with a couple of other things and headed for check out. To my surprise that employee was STILL trying to scan the card. I took my place in line behind the woman customer who was patiently waiting for the card to finally scan. Evidently she had gone back to the greeting card section to select another identical card and IT would not scan.

As I said earlier I was irritated for being late and this didn’t help. I wondered why this woman had gotten this dumb card that wouldn’t scan. “This is just inconvenient!” I said in my little self-centered head. I kept fuming until I began to realize this was just too strange that the card would not scan into the register. I wondered why the cashier didn’t just type in the bar code number. I glanced at the woman who was waiting and was going to make a silly comment when I saw that her eyes were red and her face was flushed, like she had been crying. Isn’t it amazing how insensitive we become when we are focused entirely on ourselves?

I then noticed she was trying to buy a sympathy card and I thought, “Oh no, someone close to her has died.” I have learned over time that, at least with me, God only gives me enough information to work with an no more. This is because I tend to move too quickly and impulsively if He gives me more information. I knew what I had to do, but I turned and looked behind me to see that at least 5 other people were now in line behind me. I looked because I didn’t want to get “caught” praying for some woman in the check-out line. The first thought that entered my mind was, “Hey stupid, these people are going to think you’re crazy if you pray for this woman…don’t do it!” That’s another reason God never tells me more than I need to know… because I would chicken out if I had seen the situation sooner.

Too late. I knew if I spoke up then I would just have to go through with it. So, I touched her shoulder and said, “I’m sorry, did you have someone close to you pass away?” She looked at me with big tears in her eyes and explained that her friend in another state had a son who had drown. She was sending a card to her to tell her how sorry she was. She was distraught that she couldn’t be with her friend to console her, but she said she was getting a flight in the morning to go and be with her.

I said, “Look, you don’t have to let me, but could I just pray for you?”  She shook her head yes and I began to pray. I know I should have bowed my head and probably closed my eyes, but if I had I would not have seen what happened next. I prayed and as soon as I said, “Amen” …and I’m not kidding you right then the card scanned and made a “bleep” sound. Everyone in line, including the cashier said, a big   “Amen!” Off she went into the morning darkness into her car and hurried home.

After I got into my car I stopped and thought for a minute about what had just happened. I had been in a hurry, I was agitated that the lady in front of me had bought a dumb card that wouldn’t scan and God had to grab my attention away from myself to say, “Dude, you almost missed that!” I realized that this was not the first time that I had been so self-centered that I had almost missed an opportunity to  bring the  remarkable into someone’s life. After all of the things that had happened in my own life…obvious divine outreaches to me by God, I had been almost too busy to notice my chance to give back.

And so my message for 2019 today for you… is to BE READY and to BE WILLING! God will not use the big name EVANGELISTS anymore to reach the world, it will be through people like you and me. God’s people are EVERYWHERE and if we will just be willing to step out of our comfort zones and love people, you will see miracles in unremarkable places. Make it a New Year’s promise to yourself.

I think God lives at Publix…

” The entire front of the store broke into applause, cashiers were ringing the cowbells they ring for special occasions. It was like a party. Then Ray shouted, “Let’s do it again!” “

Doug Pacheco

Today, my wife went to visit her parents with her daughter and grandchildren. This time, I stayed home and I did the usual, cleaned up my dirty dishes and did some laundry. Didn’t watch any football, but then, I haven’t for the past two years so I figure I haven’t missed much.

This afternoon I once again got in the car to go and buy something at the store for dinner. I walked into Publix, and as usual, at least two employees said hello to me and asked me if I needed any help finding  something particular. I thanked them but said I had my list and went on my way.

Sunday’s are supposed to be laid back and “easy” according to Lionel Ritchie, but there has always been a tension in the air on Sunday’s for me. I’m not sure if it’s because I know that I go to work the next day, or just what it is, but Sunday’s always go by way too fast and I generally have a long list of things to get done. Today shopping was one of them.

For some reason today, I felt sad, and I wasn’t quite sure why. There is nothing that I know of that should make me feel sad, but it was the kind of heaviness that I knew meant I needed to pray. Sometimes, God does his best talking without saying a word. When I get to feeling this way, it is a sure sign that even if I don’t have a reason to pray, God always needs someone to intercede. Anyway, I went into the store and began shopping and prayed under my breath as i shopped.

People are easy to talk with in the South. They don’t ever seem afraid to stop and make a comment or two when you speak with them, they seem to know instinctively when you are making a joke and are free with their laughter. Today was no different.

I chatted with a guy who was trying to decide between Pork Chops or spare ribs. I saw him weighing in his mind the pros and cons of each.  His arms were crossed and his hand was over his mouth…so I modeled his stance, looked at him and I asked him,

“So, what’s it gonna be brotha?” He looked at me and grinned a big grin and asked,

“Which do YOU like the best?” I said, “You can’t beat good Country ribs if they are cooked on a grill”.

He looked up in the air and imagined what that would look like and I saw him do his Andy of Mayberry, “Mmmmm Mmmmm!” look and said, “That did it for me…Country Ribs it is!” We passed each other up and down the aisle for the next 10 minutes and each time I’d pass him he would give me that same big grin.

People in Tennessee are sacred folk. I’ve fallen in love with my adopted home. Everyone is so proud to be from here, or to have a child in college here. They are proud of the music in the air, the biscuits and gravy, the contagious charm that makes every stranger a friend… the readiness to help a neighbor out with anything they need.

I headed to check out and since I didn’t have that much in my buggy (Northern Translation: Shopping Cart, Spanish Translation: “No Ninos en la Canasta!”) I for sure wasn’t going to have anyone take my groceries out to my car for me. Publix does that you know…they stand there, bag your groceries and then ask, “May I please help you out to your car with these?” they all wear a button that says, “NO TIPPING PLEASE!” I paid for my groceries and just at that moment , my day became sacred.

I had been bagging my own groceries because the girl who had been bagging had run to do a price check. As I bagged, a very kind voice spoke over my right shoulder and said, “If you do that Mister, I won’t have a job to do.” I looked and saw a good looking young man with a nametag that told me his name was “Ray”[1].

I said, “Hello Ray, I don’t want to take your job away from you!” He smiled big and then gave me a big hug…followed by a kiss on my cheek. It made me laugh. Ray had Down’s syndrome and was so proud…just SO proud he could help me. I felt as if I was the most special person in the store that day. Ray approved of my choice of bread and he said he LOVED Crunchy Raisin Bran that I had bought. He said it was his FAV-O RITE,,,just like that. “that is my FAV-O RITE” he said and just laughed. His laugh was contagious. I started laughing too.

Ray owned me from that moment on. The cashier looked at me and smiled and said, “Ray you are my sunshine!” Upon hearing that, Ray broke into song, and when he started singing, I started singing. “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine…” I looked at the people behind me and the other cashiers and waved my hands to sing along…they started singing…”You make me happy, when skies are gray…” The other customers in three lines got in on it…”You’ll never know dear, how much I love you…” I couldn’t sing anymore…my throat was getting choked up, but by the end, there were 30 people in 8 lines singing, “Please don’t take my sunshine away!”

The entire front of the store broke into applause, cashiers were ringing the cowbells they ring for special occasions. It was like a party. Then Ray shouted, “Let’s do it again!” And away he went, singing. Of course, the entire front of the store sang along. After that, the cashier looked at Ray and said, “These people need to get home Ray!” He smiled and said okay.

He then took charge of my cart and asked, “Where are you parked?” I said, “Oh Ray, I don’t have that much and there are other people behind me with full carts that they probably need help with.” He asked, “do we go this way, or that way?” Pointing in the directions and I finally said, “Just follow me Ray.” He did.

Outside at my car, I opened the hatch and he placed my groceries inside my car. He then did something that NO ONE has ever done in my 61 years of life. Ray looked at me and asked me my name. I told him and he then asked, “Doug, can I pray for you?” There are times in life when a moment is so special that for some reason, I go deaf to all the noise around me, and my vision narrows. This was one of those times. I tried to speak but all I could do was nod my head. Ray prayed out loud and clear,

 “Lord I pray for my new friend Doug and I ask for him to be your special boy and that you will love him and give him your happy smile and that he will know that he is your special boy.” Amen!

I said, “Amen” and I grabbed Ray and gave him back the hug he had given me earlier. He said, “I have to go now, I have a job to do.” I thanked Ray and he walked back into the store. As he walked, I could hear him singing, “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine”…  I usually listen to music when I drive but I drove home in silence, I’d needed prayer and God sent Ray.

The heaviness lifted, joy returned, and today, whether anyone knows it or not, I am God’s special boy. And, don’t look now, but I think you are too. I certainly know Ray is. This Tennessee…the Holy Spirit loves this place!

[1] Not his real name.

Bullet Prayers…

In fact I’ll just tell ya right here, that toilet prayers and shower prayers rank high on my list of quiet times…. “

Doug Pacheco

If I had to be perfect and organized…I mean having every area of my life in the proper place, hair combed, clothes folded and toilet clean, thoughts pure, and motives holy…every time i wanted to pray, it would never happen.

Okay, first of all my toilets ARE clean… alright? BUT, the rest of that list…I fall short. Thankfully, God doesn’t require that I be perfect in order to talk to Him. I have discovered in fact; that He wants me to come and speak with Him precisely in the middle of my impure thought or bad hair day.

That’s good…cause it is precisely at those moments when I need Him the most and I need to be able to vent in what I call “bullet prayers” tiny, microscopic moments of shooting up a bullet prayer talking to God. In these miniscule moments I talk about my circumstances… I vent all of my frustration, all of my hurt or anger or whatever the daily need may be. Bullet prayers are handy in fact, if it weren’t for bullet prayers, I would barely pray at all. It’s a lot like another thing I do called “Bible Speed Reading’ but that’s another blog for another day… and you thought I was spiritual!

That isn’t a brag, it’s just a fact. I would like to be one of those guys like my friend Bob Perry whose entire ministry is prayer…he goes to Bonneroo and sets up prayer tents, prays over people in dire circumstances, people who have cancer, drug problems, family issues financial crisis….hangnails….he prays over everything…and I’m envious. But I also realize that people with this level of commitment also have a specific calling to pray and I am grateful for them…and I can try to be more committed to pray in a focused way every day and believe me I’m getting better…but I know with the personality of an Irish setter, I will always become distracted, always chasing the next butterfly or squirrel right when I want to focus on praying. That was a long sentence.

My point here is that I believe like anything else, we will find that spiritual growth, including talking to God generally happens during the course of our day. YES, we should take time for specifically praying for issues, and YES fasting for extended periods is extremely important…not diminishing these. I’m just saying, you don’t have to swing for the fence every time you get up to bat in prayer. In fact I’ll just tell ya right here, that toilet prayers and shower prayers rank high on my list of quiet times….and of course prayers in the cockpit of my car are one of Jesus and My favorite places to have coffee and talk. If you don’t take these moments, you will discover that you will never pray…you will almost always find yourself complaining and you will be angry most of the time.

God tells us to in Lamentations 2:19 “Arise, cry out in the night, as the watches of the night begin; pour out your heart like water in the presence of the Lord. .” There are times when it is appropriate to rise at night, (especially when you are worried about something or fearful or concerned about our Country, your job or loved one…or, like me when you’re hungry) and get up and cry out to God. But it isn’t every night and you don’t have to meet God every day under those stringent circumstances. He has made it easy…bullet prayers. In the car, in the grocery store, getting your nails done, at the gym on the cross trainer. God isn’t standing with a pen and scorecard…he is anxiously waiting to listen and talk back. He LOVES bullet prayers and He can answer with Bullet answers…but you have to listen. He is the God Who Is There…listening, loving, hearing and answering..bullet prayers..